FORT BRAGG, CA, 8/1/22 — Anna Neumann, the new harbormaster of Fort Bragg’s Noyo Harbor District, stepped into the role in September. But since moving here in 2014 to work on data collection for Reef Check California, she’s worn many hats — from sailing on the FV Princess to processing urchin — and knows this harbor well. The Mendocino Voice caught up with her to talk about her exciting plans for harbor updates and what she thinks it’s most important for her community to know.
MV: Describe the job of Noyo Harbormaster.
AN: I do anything and everything that the district requires from administration to boat rental — or renting out slips for boats — to renting out the hoist. I also write grants and try to acquire funds for development projects and try to help the fishermen with anything that they come to me with, whether it be infrastructure support or requirements for boats — all that jazz.
MV: What is a day in your shoes like?
AN: For the most part I’m really weather dependent — which is funny for an office job — and I’m season dependent. So for the past few days, salmon season has been closing. So all of the fishermen coming in off the water for salmon season need a place to put their boats, so we’ll make sure that they have slips that fit the boat and then that they come and fill out all of their paperwork. I have their insurance policies in case anything goes wrong — they pay rent and I try to organize their boats in with other full-time fishermen that may be gone in Washington for a season.
So, if I have a full-time tenant in Washington for five months out of the year, I know I can put a salmon boat in his location. So I’ll do a little bit of calling to make sure that no one’s coming home prior to when I thought they were. It’s a lot of then juggling the guy that didn’t think he was gonna come into port, but the weather got bad and all of a sudden he’s here, and getting him into a slip where he’s going to be safe. So that’s kind of my nice weather days — or as seasons open and close, I do a lot of that.
And then on more foul weather days when everything’s closed down, I spend a lot of time doing basic administration work. So we’re a special district, much like a school district, where we write our own checks and we do payroll. I make sure that everything’s square in an office setting. I do a fair amount of work looking for different grants and funding projects.
In 2019, the Harbor developed a Community Sustainability Plan. So when I was hired, the commission gave me the plan, so I had the metrics that I really needed to move forward and be successful in looking for grants. The Community Sustainability Plan was driven a lot by stakeholder input, where it identified 11 projects that the community wanted the Harbor to take on. Most of them are infrastructure based. So it’s really easy for me to now turn around and go, ‘Hey, I want to do a feasibility study for a new mooring basin.’ And they go, ‘Well, why is it important?’ I go, ‘Well, it’s my number four Community Sustainability Plan project.’ They really laid it out so when I started applying for these grants, when I came on, I was set up for success, which was really great. It’s easy to shine when people point you in the right direction.
MV: Can you speak a bit more to the mooring basin project for those who may not be familiar, as well as other new initiatives you’re hoping to take on?
AN: Our mooring basin right now is original infrastructure. It was developed in the 1950s. So all of my docks, except for C, are wood, and they have steel brackets and carriage bolts that hold everything together. And as we know, steel and wood over saltwater and time just doesn’t equate to the best mixture. So we’re looking for funding to redevelop and go from a wood marina to a concrete marina — we’re one of the last public marinas in California to still be wood. Concrete has all sorts of different benefits, especially when you’re looking at tsunami impacts — the wood with the steel brackets just doesn’t hold up quite as well. Especially with these old pilings. There’s different kind of ways you can buffer that wave energy better on a newer dock than with these older docks.
They weren’t really considering sea level rise and increasing energy and climate change when they built this infrastructure. So that’s what we’re doing with the mooring basin redevelopment.
The fuel dock was the number one priority project on the community sustainability plan. Right now there’s a small fuel dock in Dolphin Isle, which is the private marina just up the way, and it’s really not accessible, especially to our larger boats. So all of these boats on A dock won’t be able to get up there — and this is a large part of my commercial fleet. So right now we’re looking into a feasibility study on if it’s possible to put a fuel dock in Noyo. What does that look like? Whether that is something that ends up being owned and operated by the Harbor district or by a private business, we just want to take those basic steps to see what we need. We’re looking at sea level rise. We’re looking at erosion, climate change, eel grass habitats — what are the different permits needed through the Waterboard, around water quality, from the Coastal Commission? Like, cool, build a fuel dock — what does that entail?
It’s my first stab at it, and hopefully that document will be able to be used, by the district or by someone else. If a private entity wants to come in and go, ‘Hey, we’ve always dreamt of a fuel dock in Noyo,’ they’ll have a roadmap of what’s needed — and we’ll hopefully be able to identify any fatal flaws in a location before we’re $300,000 down the road in constructing something.
MV: Is there anything else you’re particularly excited about or envisioning with regard to sustainability?
AN: Both of these projects have a lot of aspects where we can become innovative in what we do. So at the Blue Economy symposium, we heard from two folks from Ecospheres and Sunken Seaweed, both of whom work at remediating toxins out of either water and mooring basins, or out of sediments. So as this infrastructure is coming in and we’re updating, can we use these innovative technologies to bioremediate and offset some of our negative uses?
It’s just cool to think about — we don’t want to just be harmful towards our environment, and we’re a small port district. So we won’t have 500 miles of coastline that we’re gonna have to bioremediate. We could do a pilot project, or we could, you know, figure out how to work in, instead of doing traditional rip rap, which would be all these rocks along the wall, you can get these concrete hectagons that make little tide pools. So instead of just pouring more rip rap in the water, like let’s do these living shorelines, be innovative, and take an opportunity to just do something that’s not totally normal. I would really love to see some sort of seaweed or algae project be established that is gonna have those bioremediation capacities.
There’s also a lot of talk about developing aquaculture on this coast, which I find a very fascinating topic. I was just talking with a woman about, instead of doing mono aquaculture, like let’s do a multitrophic one. So you have the kelp for filtration, but then it also provides an overstory for oysters to grow. And then the fish will move in and as the fish poop, the oysters eat that, and the kelp makes the good salinity for the oysters. So much like we see with regular farming, just one species is just not sustainable. If we are going to take these innovative challenges and go towards an aquaculture setting on this coast, let’s look at it in a very innovative aspect.
And it’s super important to note that all of the aquaculture ideas that have been spinning around — and we’re just on the very basis of this — are not fisheries that are currently fished traditionally. We’re not looking at doing aquaculture for salmon and tuna farms and fish farms. It’s a lot of shellfish and then a lot of seaweed, which are two things that aren’t harvested in a traditional fishing style. So commercial hook and line traps, all that stuff is what I consider a traditional fishery. I feel like people hear the word aquaculture and they’re like, “You’re gonna fish farm!” But it’s so much broader than that.
MV: You have worked on a commercial fishing boat and done data collection and worn many hats in your career with regards to marine life. From those different roles, what do you feel is helping you in this job? Has there been anything surprising in terms of intersections of different skills or knowledge?
AN: Yes and no. I don’t feel like I have a very broad skill set. I feel like I know — or have a pretty good grasp on — fishing in Noyo Harbor. But with this job, there’s a lot that I have to learn. I’ve never been an administrator of a special district. So what does that mean? What does that look like?
My assistant Kim [McLaughlin] is so wonderful at being like, “An incident occurred! Anna, incident report forms!” And I’m like, “Yes. Super important. Awesome.” I’m not just on a fishing boat. I can’t just like put duct tape on it and call it a day. So all of that stuff, I’m kind of behind the curve on learning. And my board has been super great about understanding that and answering questions and taking the time to ensure that the administrative side of it doesn’t fall to the wayside.
As far as my previous jobs playing a role in now, I think a lot of it was just the development of relationships down here. So I know the guys from working different, weird jobs or from being in a small community — I’m not a total outsider coming into it. I know how to take the jokes. I’ve heard ’em all before. And I understand what they’re going through when they go to sea. I’ve been there, I’ve been tired, I’ve been grumpy. I’ve snapped at the wrong person when I shouldn’t have, so then when they come in and they snap at me because they haven’t slept in four days, it doesn’t offend me. I know it’s part of it. So it’s a mixed bag.
MV: How does the governance of the Noyo Harbor District work?
AN: I have a board of five commissioners — two of them were appointed by the city, two were appointed by the county, and then the chair is jointly appointed. They govern and oversee a lot of my time. So they’ll direct me like, “Hey, here’s our community sustainability plan, work towards finding funding for these projects.” And then I kind of go back and I come to the office and I do a bunch of work. We meet monthly, the second Thursday of every month at 6 p.m., usually town hall are our meetings, which are public and there are agendas. And I provide all of that and say, “This is what I found. Do you want me to continue on this path or do you want me to abandon ship?” So I kind of go a lot on what their directions are — and then they’ve established an ad hoc for different projects that we do. So I had a budgetary ad hoc that came in and helps me develop a budget. And I have a Community Sustainability Plan ad hoc that comes in and helps me develop where we’re going on the Community Sustainability Plan and present those ideas to the commission. So I’m not totally flying solo. There’s a lot of support that goes into what I end up doing.
MV: Do you have a particular approach to management in your role?
AN: I’m probably almost too mellow. I really want my staff to come to me and be like, “Hey, I found this project or identified this issue. Can I work on fixing it?” And then it’s like, “Yeah, sure. Let’s totally work on fixing it.” I’ve got three maintenance guys, and then Kim is in the office with me. And unfortunately Kim gets set up with a lot of my busy work. And then my maintenance team, they usually come to me with, like, these boards are broken or this bathroom is leaking, can we work on replacing it? I don’t have time to walk the docks every day, so they do. And I really rely on them to tell me, this is unsafe. Or, this is about to be unsafe. Or if there’s an issue that they see between the guys that maybe we need to step in and help quiet, then I rely on them to kind of be my eyes and ears on the ground — and they do a fantastic job of it.
MV: Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you want people to know?
AN: Just come to meetings and community involvement. Our meetings are super small. No one shows up and I just want everyone to know, and be happy with, the direction that we’re going. They are community meetings, so it’s just like, “Okay, you guys, this is the part for stakeholder input. If I’m going the wrong way, do tell me. I’m more than happy to go any direction. I just want to know that it’s a direction.” It’s a double-edged sword, but more community input would be wonderful.